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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/1997   
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Contents >> Crime & Justice >> Violent Crime: Victims of assault

Violent Crime: Victims of assault

There were over 101,000 cases of criminal assault recorded by police in Australia in 1995. Victims were more often young, and more likely to be male.

Assault is the most common of violent crimes. In 1995, Australian police services recorded 101,000 cases of assault: an average of 277 cases per day, compared to 45 cases (per day) of robbery and 35 cases of sexual assault1. Many cases of assault are not reported to the police. Notwithstanding possible effects of differences in definition (see box), the 1993 National Crime and Safety Survey found that 334,000 people aged 15 years and over had been victims of assault, about three times the number recorded by the police in that year.

Many people are fearful of violent crimes, and tend to overestimate their risk of being a victim perhaps, in part, because of the amount of media attention given to incidents of violence. A 1995 study undertaken by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found that 14% of the population regarded their risk of being a victim of assault as greater than 30%, and that women and older people were the most fearful2.

As well as providing the opportunity to assess whether these levels of fear are realistic, information about the numbers and characteristics of assault victims provide important indicators of the level and pattern of violence in the community.

ASSAULT RATES IN NEW SOUTH WALES


Source: Crime and Safety, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, April 1995; Crime and Safety, New South Wales, April 1996 (cat. no. 4509.1).

Assault

As defined by the recently established ABS National Crime Statistics collection, based on police statistics, assault is the direct infliction of force, injury or violence upon a person. It includes attempts or threats, providing they are in the form of face-to-face direct confrontation and there is reason to believe that the attempt or threat can be immediately enacted.

In 1983 survey data was collected by means of personal interview. However, surveys conducted throughout the 1990s collected the information using a self-enumeration questionnaire addressed to all members of the household aged 15 years and over. Information was collected on the number of assaults on each respondent in the last 12 months, but details were obtained only for the most recent assault.

Both the above exclude sexual assault, which is collected differently.

Responses obtained in the ABS Crime and Safety Surveys are based on the respondents' perceptions that they have been the victim of an offence. Data on crimes not reported to police are also collected. The wording of the questions asked of respondents may not correspond with police or legal definitions. Other differences from police statistics are due to a number of factors, including:
  • police statistics count all offences recorded in the year; while crime victims surveys count the number of victims (though adjustments can be made for multiple victimisations);
  • dates of reporting may differ between the sources due to police recording practices and respondent memory problems; and
  • police may not record an event reported, for various reasons.


Levels and trends
The last National Crime and Safety Survey conducted in 1993 found that 2.5% of all persons aged 15 years and over had experienced an assault in the 12 months prior to the survey. This was lower than the rate (3.4%) recorded in 1983. This decrease cannot be taken at face value, however, as changes in survey methods may have accounted for some of the change. Annual crime victims surveys conducted in New South Wales between 1990 and 1996 show that assault rates have fluctuated between 2.1% and 2.8% over the period. Assault rates recorded in 1996 were, nevertheless, higher than those recorded at the beginning of the decade.

ASSAULT RATES BY AGE, 1993


Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).


Groups at risk
Of all assault victims identified in the 1993 survey, almost two thirds (64%) were men and almost seven in ten (69%) were aged between 15 and 34. Only a small proportion of victims (4%) were aged 55 and over.

Youths aged 15-19 were the group most at risk. 8% of men and 4% of women in this age group had experienced an assault in the previous 12 months. The likelihood of being a victim decreased with age and, across all age groups, was lower for women than men. Nevertheless, the likelihood of women aged 15-19 being assaulted was higher than for men aged 25-34.

Just as there were large differences in assault rates among people in different age groups, there were also differences between individuals depending on their marital status and their labour force status.

Married and employed people were less likely to be victims of assault than those who had never married or those who were unemployed. Even after standardising for age effects, major differences between marital status groups and labour force status groups are apparent.

Among people aged 20 years and over, married men and women had the lowest age-standardised assault rates of all marital status groups. However, it should be noted that incidents of domestic violence may have been under-reported in the survey because the questionnaire (a mail-back, self- completion form) could not necessarily be answered without the offender being aware of the responses.

In comparison, separated and divorced people of either sex were more vulnerable to assault than their married or never married counterparts. Violent disputes between ex-partners following separation may account for the high rates among separated and divorced people3. However, other lifestyle factors are likely to be important in explaining why separated and divorced men had the highest rates of assault.

Unemployed people of either sex were more likely to be victims of assault than either employed people or those not in the labour force. The age-standardised rate for unemployed males was 26% higher than those for men not in the labour force and 61% higher than those for men with work. The age-standardised rate for unemployed women was 58% higher than those for employed women, but there was little difference between women with jobs and those who were not in the labour force.

AGE-STANDARDISED DEATH RATES(a) BY MARITAL STATUS(b), 1993



    (a) Rate per 10,000 of the population.
    (b) Refers to people aged 20 years and over.
    Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).

AGE-STANDARDISED DEATH RATES(a) BY LABOUR FORCE STATUS(b), 1993


    (a) Rate per 10,000 of the population.
    (b) Refers to people aged 20 years and over.
    Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).


Repeat victimisation
Many cases of assault appear to be isolated incidents. In 1993, 57% of assault victims had experienced only one assault in the previous 12 months. Even so, a large proportion of assault victims had been assaulted on more than one occasion: 18% twice; a further 16% three or four times; and another 9% five or more times over the previous 12 months.

About the same proportions of men and women reported being the victim of only one assault. However, while about twice as many men as women reported being the victim of more than one assault, women were more likely to have been assaulted on three or more occasions. Similarly, separated and divorced victims were more likely than other marital status categories to be the victims of three or more assaults.

REPEAT VICTIMISATION, 1993

Number of incidents in the previous 12 months

One
Two
Three or more
Characteristics of victims
%
%
%

Men
56.4
20.6
23.0
Women
57.5
12.9
29.6
Marital status
    Married/de facto
58.9
16.8
24.3
    Separated/divorced
46.3
17.0
36.7
    Never married
57.9
18.4
23.7
All victims(a)
56.8
17.8
25.4
'000
'000
'000
All victims(a)
189.9
59.5
84.8

(a) Includes widowed people.

Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).


Familiarity with offenders and location of incident
Women (68%) were more likely than men (47%) to know their attacker or some of their attackers. Those in a partnership, and those who had been separated or divorced, were more likely than those who had never been married, to have known the perpetrator of the assault. Separated or divorced women were the most likely to know their attacker.

Assaults can occur in a variety of settings, but the most common locations were within or around the home (25% of all victims) or on the street (20%). The pattern was quite different for men and women.

Women were much more likely to be assaulted in or around the home (42%, compared with 15% of male victims). This difference, together with the differences in the proportions of men and women who knew their attackers, indicates that the pattern of violence against women generally differs from that experienced by men. More men are assaulted by strangers while more women are assaulted by people whom they know and more often, as suggested by location, by current and previous partners (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Violence against women).

VICTIM/OFFENDER RELATIONSHIP, 1993

Some or all offenders known to victim

Men
Women
Total
Marital status of victims
%
%
%

Married
57.9
66.4
60.8
Separated/divorced
47.9
83.0
67.1
Never married
39.1
64.8
47.7
All victims(a)
46.5
68.4
54.4

(a) Includes widowed people.

Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).

Injury
Results from the 1993 Crime and Safety Survey reveal that only a small proportion (14%) of assaults involved the use of a weapon. The survey estimated that 97,500 people (about 30%) had been injured during the assault. The type or severity of the injury was not recorded.

Hospital separations data for 1992–93 show that 17,229 people (on average 47 people a day) had been hospitalised for assault-related injuries4. As a proportion of all assault victims recorded in the Crime Victims Survey, this data suggests that about 5% of assault victims sustained injuries serious enough to warrant admittance to hospital.

More men than women were injured in their last incident of assault (about 60% of all those who were injured were men). In terms of risks of injury, however, the injury rate was slightly higher among women (33% of women compared to 27% of men).

Reporting behaviour
In 1993, one third (32%) of assault victims reported the last incident to the police. While victims were most likely to do so if they were injured (42%, compared to 28% for those not injured) the overall reporting rate was low for various reasons. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting incidents were: that the incident was too trivial or unimportant (35%); that police would or could not do anything (14%); or that it was a private matter (12%). A further 6% said they were afraid of reprisals or revenge.

Patterns of reporting behaviour differ between different groups of people, suggesting that the reasons for not reporting also differ between them. Middle-aged people, particularly those aged 45-54, were more likely to report incidents to the police and in almost every age group, men were less likely than women to report incidents of assault.

Among men, those who knew their attacker and those who had been injured, were more likely to report the incident to the police. Among women, on the other hand, these circumstances made little difference to their reporting behaviour.

Never married, separated and divorced women were more likely to report to police than their male counterparts, but there was little difference in reporting rates for married men and women.

VICTIMS WHO REPORTED TO POLICE, 1993

Men
Women
Total
Characteristics of victims
%
%
%

Marital status
    Married
38.7
40.0
39.2
    Separated, divorced
32.5
56.2
45.5
    Never married
22.2
30.9
25.1
Age group (years)
    15-19
21.8
27.9
23.9
    20-24
21.7
33.1
25.7
    25-34
32.6
44.4
36.9
    35-44
33.0
43.8
37.5
    45-54
47.6
47.0
47.4
    55 or more
22.7
28.5
24.7
Victim/offender relationship
    Offender known
36.4
37.3
36.8
    Offender unknown
23.9
39.3
27.8
Injuries
    Injured
43.4
39.5
41.8
    Not injured
23.3
37.4
28.1
All victims(a)
28.8
38.1
32.1

(a) Includes widowed people.

Source: National Crime and Safety Survey (unpublished data).


Endnotes
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1995, National Crime Statistics, 1995, cat. no. 4510.0, ABS, Canberra.

2 NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice, No. 28, May 1996.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996, Women's Safety, Australia, cat. no. 4128.0, ABS, Canberra.

4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Injury Surveillance Unit, Hospital Separations (unpublished data).


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